Let history record that the Sakai Pond Connector’s first user came not on wheel or foot, but hoof.
As crews feathered in the last of 400 feet of asphalt on the Sound To Olympics Trail’s newest leg, a black-tailed doe emerged from the woods, sampled a newly planted tree at the trailside – not to its taste, fortunately – scampered across the new trail and off into the highway lanes.
“Be smart,” one onlooker enjoined in the deer’s direction.
“Or lucky,” said another.
Highway traffic paused briefly, the doe disappeared across the far shoulder, and work went on. By the end of the day, STO Sakai was done.
Let the wheels and feet follow.
That the deer found the trailside so tantalizing owes to the aggressive planting schedule (formerly “restoration,” now “assisted natural revegetation” in the parlance) of Northwest trees and shrubs.
Nearly 200 Douglas fir and Western red cedar starts will be planted, along with 180 native shrubs including thimbleberry, Pacific mock orange, and black twinberry.
“That’s the essence of the vision for the STO and all its connectors,” says Don Willott, of the Friends of the Sound To Olympics Trail. “It’s a greenway. It’s habitat. It’s going from what was the shoulder of the highway, without much thought beyond getting the highway paved, to restoring the beautiful place that was here when Europeans started arriving. It will become more and more of the ‘linear park’ that we have been working on for so many years.”
Compared to the mile-long STO Winslow Connector – completed in 2018, from Winslow Way to High School Road – the new Sakai Pond Connector is a modest affair.
The short route runs about 600 feet from the northwest corner of High School/SR305 to the south boundary of Sakai Park. There, it links up with trails in the park’s wooded lower bowl, which run in turn around scenic Sakai Pond and up to Madison Avenue and the school campus.
A graveled spur off the trail’s paved portion serves a Kitsap Transit bus stop on the highway. Riders can now exit a southbound bus and walk up the trail to High School Road, rather than braving the highway shoulder.
“This new section of the Sound to Olympics Trail is relatively short, but the link it creates from the existing STO and the school campuses and public pool on Madison Avenue is significant,” says Mark Epstein, City of Bainbridge Island Engineering Project Manager. “It provides a new connection to explore the trails and observe wildlife around the beautiful pond within Sakai Park.”
PLANNING THE NEXT STRETCH
The Sakai Connector is the second Bainbridge leg of the Sound To Olympics Trail, a regional non-motorized route that will link the Winslow ferry terminal with the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas.
The STO is being filled in one segment at a time, across Poulsbo, Port Gamble and unincorporated Kitsap and Jefferson counties, to eventually reach the Olympic Discovery Trail to the Pacific.
The Sakai Connector was funded by the City of Bainbridge Island, primarily by the developers of the Wintergreen Walk development on High School Road as a condition of that development.
Trail construction was by Liden Land Development and Excavation of Poulsbo. The Parks Foundation funded land clearing by weed-eating goats this past summer, through its Friends of the STO Trail Fund.
Bainbridge’s portion of the STO is being built in segments, to run north along the highway and eventually reach the Agate Pass Bridge. The City and Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District are already planning the next leg, from Sakai Park north toward Madison Avenue.
At the same time, the Parks Foundation and City are collaborating on a landscaped plaza at the new High School/305 trailhead. The plan includes benches, interpretive signage and other amenities, with construction eyed in fall 2022.
“Like all the new native plants that have been put in at the trailside, the STO itself will ‘grow in’ over time,” says Mary Meier, Parks Foundation executive director. “With each new stretch across the island, you’ll see amenities like benches and waysides for all users. The vision is so much greater than just a trail.”
DEDICATION AND TRAIL MIXER: The Sound To Olympics Trail Sakai Pond Connector will be celebrated at a dedication and Trail Mixer event at 12 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 3. The event is hosted by the City of Bainbridge Island, the Bainbridge Island Parks Foundation and the Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District.
Light snacks will be served, including the Parks Foundation’s homemade “Because We Love Trail Mix.”
For more information on the Sound To Olympics Trail, see www.bainbridgewa.gov/1293.